In an effort to survive and even thrive, specialty stores are becoming more, well, special. At a time when Saks Fifth Avenue is reasserting its luxury prowess and Neiman Marcus is posting strong financial results, the independents are scrambling to do more of what they do best. That includes providing superior service, discovering and introducing talented designers and unique merchandise, and forging relationships with designers to create exclusive products for their stores. Some specialty retailers are trying to turn their locations into sought-after destinations with amenities such as restaurants and bars. The all-important in-store boutique brings clout to a specialty store, sending the message that a designer believes strongly in the future of the retailer.
- FRED SEGAL/RON HERMAN, LOS ANGELES AND SANTA MONICA, CALIF.
Fred Segal in 1968 opened a 200-square-foot jeans store on Melrose Avenue, eventually expanding his collection of independently-owned shops along the entire block. A second store opened in Santa Monica in 1985. Ron Herman, who commands the largest space in the Melrose Avenue location, sells young designers, his own RH Vintage collection, jewelry and CDs. Herman has established a name for himself with freestanding stores in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Costa Mesa and recently, Malibu, Calif., where he caters to a casual crowd with Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs and Missoni. Herman, who reportedly takes in $40 million in the five locations, is developing a Web site and selling his own collections in Asia and Europe.
- MITCHELLS OF WESTPORT, CONN., AND RICHARDS IN GREENWICH, CONN.
Last year, the 28,000-square-foot Mitchells in Westport, Conn., underwent a renovation that reallocated more space to women’s and turned back office space into men’s retail. Both Mitchells and Richards in Greenwich, Conn., added Manolo Blahnik and Jil Sander to the fashion roster this year and both stores have Hermès boutiques. The two family owned units carry many of the same resources but their customers rarely overlap. Tod’s and Prada handbag shops are located at Mitchells. The Westport store has been developing a jewelry business with designers such as Rene Lewis, David Yurman and Michael Beaudry. The company hopes to replicate the success of jewelry at Richards.
Owners Stefani Greenfield and Uzi Ben-Abraham opened the first Scoop store in 1996 with the intent of creating the ultimate closet. With eight stores, including ones in SoHo, the West Village and the Upper East Side in Manhattan, Greenvale, N.Y., East Hampton, N.Y., Greenwich, Conn., the Shore Club Hotel in Miami and Las Vegas, Scoop has a well-honed formula for success. The plan now is to expand, and where possible, separate men’s and women’s into stand-alone units. A new concept, Scoop Starting Young, for fashion-conscious two- to 12-year-olds, is planned for Washington Street in the West Village near existing Scoop units.
- JEFFREY NEW YORK AND JEFFREY ATLANTA
Jeffrey Kalinsky never takes his finger off the pulse. One of the newest additions to his women’s fashion lineup at Jeffrey New York is Libertine, a collection designed by Johnson Hartig and Cindy Greene that takes traditional tweedy jackets and kilts into edgy territory with raw edges and a penchant for silk-screening. Kalinsky has also been teaming up with designers on exclusive products for the store. Project Alabama, for example, created a limited edition of 14 dresses, with some styles selling for as much as $12,000. There’s also a collection for Jeffrey from Pierre Cardin based on the designer’s original styles in updated fabrics.
- WILKES BASHFORD, SAN FRANCISCO
Wilkes Bashford is more elegant than edgy and more traditional than trendy, as befitting a retailer that’s been part of San Francisco’s Union Square shopping scene since 1966. The store carries Agnona and Monique Lhuillier for women, and Brioni and Kiton for men. Three years ago, the company opened a 10,000-square-foot, full-line store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Two WilkesSport stores in St. Helena and Mill Valley offer casual fare such as Bogner skiwear. In the downtown San Francisco flagship, a Pratesi baby boutique opened, and in November, Wilkes at Home by Pratesi arrives.
- Stanley Korshak, Dallas
Since Crawford Brock bought this 50,000-square-foot luxury emporium two years ago following a long tenure as president, he has moved Stanley Korshak into edgier collections, such as Behnaz Sarafpour and Roberto Cavalli. Brock expanded the home and bridal boutiques and is building a bar near the entrance of the store. Three new women’s designer shops, the names of which he declined to reveal, will open in January. A Carolina Herrera boutique opened last November. “We’ve taken every business and done a five-year plan,” said Brock. “It’s exploding all over the place.”
- TOOTSIES, HOUSTON
Tootsies is excelling with such colorful collections as Missoni, Etro and Dolce & Gabbana and is picking up several young designers for spring, including Derek Lam, Wyeth and Behnaz Sarafpour. Owner Mickey Rosmarin said the Dallas and Atlanta units are especially strong within his small chain, which began with the flagship in Houston and includes a contemporary store in San Antonio. The Atlanta store doubled in size last fall when Rosmarin moved it across the street from Lenox Square mall. New shoe departments managed — not leased — by Madison in Los Angeles are on tap for spring in Dallas and Houston, and part of the Houston store is getting a facelift.
- MARIO’S, PORTLAND, ORE., AND SEATTLE
In keeping with the company’s emphasis on service, Mario’s Portland store, which celebrates is second birthday in November, has started a personal shopping service called 1-2-1. Mario’s also operates a unit in Seattle. The store’s strength is mixing resources so they relate to one another, said fashion director Lynwood Holmberg. Last year, Mario’s added Chloé, Derek Lam and Agnona. New footwear collections include Georgina Goodman’s handmade shoes and Edmundo Castillo’s sexy heels. Holmberg said the stores are selling more separates such as cashmere sweaters and novelty jackets. Colorful Etro and Pucci prints are also flying, she said.
- HIRSHLEIFER’S, MANHASSET, N.Y.
Hirshleifer’s continues to tinker with its floor plan, expanding the real estate for its most popular resources and adding new designers’ products in an effort to give its loyal customers exactly what they want. A freestanding 1,800-square-foot franchised Dolce & Gabbana boutique recently opened and a Jil Sander shop of the same size will be unveiled at the end of the month. The Chanel area, wildly popular with the local ladies, is doubling in size, and an 800-square-foot boutique devoted to Jimmy Choo, another perennial favorite, opened. The retailer is like an exclusive department store, only everything is handpicked with the customer in mind.
- LOUIS BOSTON
Louis Boston’s women’s collections are a who’s who of new and established designers. Under Debi Greenberg, who bought Louis from her father, Murray Pearlstein, in 2003, collections such as Age, Colombo, Goat and Octo-Hettabretz mingle with Marni, Loro Piana, Balenciaga and Zac Posen. The 45,000-square-foot store has a music bar, a new Morgenthal Frederics eyewear counter on the main floor and an expansive home department with everything from vintage furniture and bedding to chocolates and dog treats. There’s also the Salon Mario Russo and the highly rated Restaurant L.